16 days into the new year and it’s looking like a rough one for the marketing team at Gourmet Burger Kitchen (GBK).
Burger chain GBK released a string of ‘anti-vegetarian’ adverts across the London Underground this week, to disastrous reception. Depending on whether this was a PR stunt or natural disaster, the company’s Community Manager is about to have the best or worst week of their career. The marketer in me wants to believe this was a PR stunt to amplify the GBK brand as I simply can’t understand how this campaign would have been approved in a serious attempt to increase revenue. This must just be the start of a PR strategy – right?
GBK’s latest brainwave appears to mock those abstaining from meat. Social media has (of course) gone into a flurry about the choice of messaging, ‘they eat grass so you don’t have to’ being particularly memorable. Naturally, the majority of those chairing the backlash are of the non-meat eating variety (which, are still in the minority). If this campaign is genuine work of the GBK marketing team (if not, it’s a fantastic hoax), I would argue that their target demographic will largely remain loyal. GBK aren’t targeting a vegetarian/vegan audience and the vegans are likely to remember this campaign long after everyone else. As a vegetarian, I don’t particularly enjoy the brand messaging; however, I’m not GBK’s target audience and (as the campaign suggests), they don’t care. Meat-free living has seen an increase in popularity through the explosion of social media; however, The NHS estimates only 2% of the United Kingdom follow a vegetarian diet (with roughly 1.99% inhabiting Brighton). Figures appear skewed by the popularisation of a plant based diet with popular figures such as Freelee the Banana Girl dominating the online food space as advocates of cruelty-free dining.
Whether this campaign is genuine, a PR stunt or a hoax, the message remains the same. GBK have a target demographic and that audience is formed of carnivores who enjoy somewhat overpriced burgers in a restaurant setting. I predict that I could walk past GBK in Brighton tomorrow and it would be business as usual. Yes, I’m sure the campaign has angered some regulars but it also would have publicised the chain to others. I’m fairly confident a significant portion of those angered by the campaign would have already forgotten about it and the other half (of meat eaters) would forget their ‘ethics’ under temptation of a hangover burger. Ultimately, the association of GBK to anti-vegetarianism will be short lived to their target demographic.
GBK (Clapham House Group plc) is owned by Capricorn Ventures (who also own chicken giants Nandos) and I fail to believe that this would have passed sign-off stages without a further strategic objective. Then again, Capricorn Ventures were in talks to sell the chain as recently as November 2015 so larger PR stunt is a possibility.
By Claire Coley, January 2016
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